Elon STARS: CJ Dickson

Environmental ethics course helps students develop tools for making socially and environmentally responsible decisions.

Curriculum is a major area of evaluation in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which assesses sustainability performance at colleges and universities across the country. 

CJ Dickson, an adjunct instructor in religious studies, teaches an environmental ethics course that address all aspects of sustainability— environmental, social and economic—to help contribute to Elon’s STARS silver rating.

Dickson’s course helps students critically examine why people might make certain decisions regarding the natural world and helps students explore the connections between social and environmental impacts of these decisions.

“We need to ask if there are problems in the way we live our lives and what ways of life need to be acquired to preserve human beings and the environment,” Dickson says.

Students taking Dickson’s course grapple with many different questions, including the following: As human beings are we responsible for asking what impact our decisions have on the environment and acting in an appropriate manner? What is an appropriate manner? How does our impact on the environment affect our quality of life and that of others?

Through readings, debate, discussion and service learning, students examine how different philosophies and religions influence what people are taught about the natural world. They learn how this informs interactions with the natural world and explore connections between environmental problems and social concerns, such as poverty and overpopulation. 

Students also learn to use ethics as a tool for shaping future interactions with the environment as a way to address our current environmental crisis. Dickson hopes that his students will take away an ethical skill set from his class.

“I don’t want them to take away a particular position on environmental issues,” he says. “I want to help them realize that ethics gives tools to make more informed decisions about what to do. I’m not teaching students what to do but helping them see that if you ask the questions ethicists ask, you can understand all implications of whatever it is you decide to do.”

It All Adds Up

November is Lose the Landfill month at Elon. The average person at Elon generates 4.6 pounds of garbage a week. The average American generates 4.4 pounds of garbage a week.  If every person at Elon – students, staff and faculty reduced their waste by 0.6 pounds a week then we would reduce solid waste by over 13 percent.

Sustainability is a university-wide initiative, and Elon needs your help to achieve its sustainability goals, one of which is carbon neutrality by 2037. Over 6 percent of Elon’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from solid waste.  You can help Elon reduce waste and GHGs.

Before you buy ask yourself …

When an item is thrown away, where is away?

What impact does the production and disposal of the object you are about to purchase have on the environment and people?  Is there a better option?

Your Voice

Share your stories, your photos, your tips and your suggestions.  To nominate the next Elon STAR or to learn more visit: elon.edu/sustainability, facebook/ElonSustainabilty@sustainableElon  or contact us .

About Elon STARS: Sometimes we see stars, sometimes we don’t, but they are always there. So it is with daily opportunities for contributing to sustainability. This series highlights actions of Elon community members doing their part to integrate sustainable practices at Elon. STARS also stands for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System used by Elon and other higher education institutions to measure and monitor sustainability in all aspects of higher education. This faculty member’s course is featured in Elon’s STARS report.



STARS Report